Headstones from a historic African American cemetery in Washington, D.C. that were being used for erosion control are being transferred to Maryland’s National Harmony Memorial Park, the AP reports. This move will honor the 37,000 people recorded as being buried at the D.C. cemetery.
The original site was initially established in 1859 as the Columbian Harmony Cemetery, and “was the most prominent burial site for African Americans in Washington, D.C., but it was moved in the 1960s to make room for development including the Rhode Island Avenue-Brentwood Metro station.” While the remains were initially moved out to Prince George’s County’ National Harmony Memorial Park, officials have stated that the “gravestones were sold or given away”.
In 2016, upon exploring a newly purchased property, Virginia Sen. Richard Stuart unearthed grave markers that had ended up along a couple mile bank of the King George County River. He turned to historians in order to unearth the gravestones’ origins and then proceeded to collaborate with government leaders to return and properly memorialize these headstones.
On Monday, Governors Larry Hogan (MD), and Ralph Northam (VA), as well as Mayor Muriel Bowser (DC) spoke at a ceremony, honoring the first 55 headstones’ relocation. As NBC reported, Gov. Hogan said “It’s a disgusting and heartbreaking chapter in our history.” Gov. Northam confirmed these sentiments, stating “It’s really important for all of us to acknowledge past wrongs,” and Mayor Bowser echoed these views, saying “We are committed to righting that wrong.”
The original cemetery in D.C. was home to a variety of prominent figures in the African American community, including: “Elizabeth Keckly, a former slave who became a seamstress and trusted confidante of first lady Mary Todd Lincoln; Osborne Perry Anderson, the only African American survivor of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry; Mary Ann Shadd Cary, America’s first African American female newspaper editor; and Philip Reid, a foundry worker who helped build of the Statue of Freedom at the U.S. Capitol,” according to the Associated Press.
This will be an ongoing process, and over the course of the fall, more gravestones will continue to be recovered and relocated. Gov. Northam’s office said that the state of Virginia has approved $4 million to establish a shoreline memorial where the markers were discovered in addition to the headstones’ recovery and restoration.